What is Shabby Chic Decor? | Studio Covers

What Does Shabby Chic Mean? Everything You've Wanted To Know

November 19, 2020

What Does Shabby Chic Mean? Everything You've Wanted To Know | Studio Covers

All right. So you’ve decided to hop on the “let rooms read like an old book” train. Well, we’re glad you have!

We’ve been obsessed with this style for a while and it is high time others appreciated the laid-back weathered-down rustic-but-not-exactly vibe - perfectly imperfect, if you will.

The term you’re looking for is “shabby chic.” What exactly is this rather quaint-sounding term? For the lack of a better word, just that: quaint. It’s Victorian England meets your grandma’s sweater wrapped in the smell of freshly baked bread. It’s comforting, romantic and idyllic.

If  pie cabinets, jelly cupboards and heavily ornamented imitations of the late Baroque period light fixtures are your cup of tea, let’s dig in!


Going back to the roots: where does the term “shabby chic” come from?

Before shabby chic decor quietly walked over into the mainstream, the style was somewhat of a rebellious reply to a society that sought nothing but expensive decor - a counterculture movement against the establishment.

The term “shabby chic” can be traced back to the 1980s during a time when Europe was experiencing unrestrained abundance. It was born during a time when most upper-middle-class homes were attempting to mirror the brass and marble that made hotel lobbies stand out. 


Shabby chic was first mentioned in the equivalent of a cult classic in the world of interiors: The World of Interiors magazine. The style became popular in the U.S. shortly after the publication of the issue. 

With wealth and luxury galore, there was something strangely comforting about the simplicity of shabby chic. It is somewhat similar to how minimalism has become the way to go over the past few years. In a world constantly pining after more, it is less that has become the antidote to the chaos. 

Studio Covers shabby chic photo

Over time, the shabby chic style has, of course, evolved. It has drawn inspiration from the fashion and decor world of 18th century Europe and America. From the Swedish Gustavian and French Cottage style to Beach Cottage Chic, shabby chic has come a long way to include modern variants such as Rustic Modern and Industrial Style. 

The style brings in pieces of history with it. Recycling textiles, furniture and other household goods are a staple of the shabby chic diet.

Is "shabby chic" just another term for vintage? 

Yes...and no. Shabby chic does often involve decorating your space with pieces that appear aged to achieve an antique look. But then again, there are many interior styles that are heavily inspired by and emulate the vintage in a relatively modern setting. 

What one must remember is this:

Shabby chic = cultivating a comfortable and cosy home. 

Honeybee collection shot

The idea here is not to make your home look worn out, but for it to instead look...well worn. Remember the bread we spoke about? Yeah, it is like baking bread in a gorgeous Oscar de la Renta. 

The shabby chic style doesn’t need to prove. It just is. 

The interiors often have a touch of history to them. The pieces can be antiques or personal items -  family heirlooms, old hardbacks, or even that vase you acquired from that one aunt years ago. 

If it makes sense to you, it goes. What these items exactly are matters little if you feel like they fit and create a space you love. We’re not trying to construct a choreographed room where everything matches.  

Think of the feeling you get when you look at a look a piece of art from history, or your grandmother’s china, or even her clothes from years gone by. Doesn’t it fill you with a sense of romantic elegance? 

It is this sense of romanticism that links the aesthetic of a quaint traditional style with the laid-back comforts of the 21st century. 

All right, but what exactly is shabby chic? How do you define it?

Well, you don’t. Shabby chic lacks a single, solid definition. The one consistency is this: at the heart of it, it is an emulation of period decor. 

Then why not just call it period decor? Well, shabby chic allows you the creativity to bring in elements from a myriad of times as opposed to trying to recreate a true period style. 

There are a number of ways in which one can bring in the vintage, shabby chic vibes. 

  1. Embrace the old: One of the hallmarks of the shabby chic decor is the appearance of age or signs of wear and tear.

    Cabinets and shelves that have been heavily painted through the years are a good choice. You want those multiple paint layers to show. 

  2. Intentionally distress it: Alternately, you may have a relatively new piece of furniture that can be sanded for a distressed or weathered look.

    Furnishings are either picked for their shabby, old look or a new item is
    distressed to achieve that almost antique condition. Think of it like a pair of old jeans or ripping the jeans intentionally to create that vibe.

    Surfaces that are sanded to strip off some paint and create an older look is a great example. Simply put, you’re taking a piece of otherwise good furniture and manipulating it to seem imperfect and old. 

  3. Paint it and paint over it: Faux painting is a DIY method that involves painting over furniture to make imitations of wood or marble textures. The idea is to replicate recognisable textures that were popular from different eras. 

Shabby Chic and Fabrics

Here is our general rule of thumb for the fabric “allowed” in shabby chic: if you can find it in a Jane Eyre book, you can most definitely bring it home. With that said, of course there are no rules!

1. Almost all fabrics under shabby chic tend to be natural i.e. we’re talking cottons and linens. The linen choices are often inspired by period French linen found in country houses.

The allure comes from the laid back, slightly frayed edges of the cloth. It’s cosy and elegant in the most understated of ways. 

Burlap and lace sham by Studio Covers         

love story shabby chic sham

2. One of the easiest ways to embrace the shabby chic style is by gently staining fabrics in tea for an old bleached out or faded look.  

3. Vintage botanical-inspired patterns are the bread and butter of shabby chic furnishings. Opt for fabrics that incorporate floral patterns, preferably in earth-toned cotton or linens. 

Autumn cushion by Studio Covers

Soft Florals cushion cover by Studio Covers


4. Ticking fabric is a popular choice when discussing the vintage. Ticking is a firm weave of cotton or linen made to last and avoid feathering. It was embraced  during the industrial era to produce lasting pillows and mattresses. Today the weave is used to create a rustic and homespun vibe.

pink and white cushion

Does shabby chic have a colour palette?

Keeping with the theme of less is more, the shabby chic favours soft colours, typically just one or two hues at a given time. 

The idea is to focus on colours that aren’t vying for your attention but invite you in because they personify comfort. 

 1. Muted pastels are typically indicative of vintage and rustic decor. Let your mind wander to creamy tones or shades pink and lilac. 

blissful crochet cushion shabby chic by Studio Covers

pink quilted shabby chic cushion

 2. Pure whites, ecrus and faded out pastels are always right for shabby chic decor. 

stefani cushion by Studio Covers


butterfly in ecru

shabby chic

3. Incorporate colours inspired by the French country style. Pick neutrals like old rose and duck egg blue. 

sea spray cushion cover

4. Since shabby chic takes after the vintage, it’s well worth it to bring in components that are shiny. Small bits like a metal key bowl or a line of brass fencing a cabinet or table; maybe even one of those 1950’s looking glass paperweights are great details to incorporate.

Is shabby chic still in style?

While the style saw a dip in popularity in the 1990s, recent years have seen a revival and renewed interest in the style. 

A home is not merely a personal space but an intimate idea. How you choose to craft and manifest that idea is entirely your choice.


Shabby chic moves beyond a wispy, idyllic feeling since the style places a great deal of emphasis on classic pieces that only get more charming with time. For us, shabby chic means timeless.  

butterfly in old rose shabby chic set

So to wrap it up!

Rachel Ashwell, an authority on all things shabby chic puts it best, “ the aura of old money, cushy comfort, and crafted indifference.”

Shabby chic calls to the old rustic farmhouse feel as much as it does to the nostalgia of a world we only find in the pages of history books. A feeling that elegantly and seamlessly transforms a place into a home through cosy comfort. 

If you think this is a way ahead for your home, we’ve linked our enchanting Shabby Chic collection for you to browse. 


Do you have any piece at your home that emulates the shabby chic spirit? We'd love to hear about it! Let us know in the comments below. 


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